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RCCL, Holland or NC for Alaska cruise?


dt3066
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We are planning a trip to Alaska for next summer. We usually do RCCL in the Caribbean but were wondering which line is the best for Alaska? We are mid-40s, like to have drinks, play trivia, visit the casino and will have no kids going with us. Seeing Alaska is the goal but we want to enjoy our time on the ship too.

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There is no one cruise line that is "best" for everyone. You can do all the things you describe on the cruise lines you mention, and many you don't mention. Better to focus on itinerary and time in ports. Make sure you get at least one "Glacier Day" (like Glacier Bay) and possibly two (adding in something like Hubbard Glacier, College Fjord or Tracy Arm). 

 

Have you done any reading down the board? 

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10 hours ago, CruiserBruce said:

There is no one cruise line that is "best" for everyone. You can do all the things you describe on the cruise lines you mention, and many you don't mention. Better to focus on itinerary and time in ports. Make sure you get at least one "Glacier Day" (like Glacier Bay) and possibly two (adding in something like Hubbard Glacier, College Fjord or Tracy Arm). 

 

Have you done any reading down the board? 

I completely agree. Look at times in port and glacier days. I prefer 2 glacier days.

 

Also do you want to do one way, RT out of Seattle, Vancouver, SFO and even LA? Do you want to do a land trip.

 

Alaska is entirely different than the Caribbean, IMO - Better! Beside looking at reports, I would also check out the book Alaska by Cruiseship by Anne Vipond. Alaska is more about what happens outside of the ship and not what goes on on the ship.

 

I personally like Princess one ways due to their times in port and 2 glacier days. RCCL was my least favorite as they had no enrichment programs on board (Princes has a ton). 

Edited by Coral
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10 hours ago, CruiserBruce said:

There is no one cruise line that is "best" for everyone. You can do all the things you describe on the cruise lines you mention, and many you don't mention. Better to focus on itinerary and time in ports. Make sure you get at least one "Glacier Day" (like Glacier Bay) and possibly two (adding in something like Hubbard Glacier, College Fjord or Tracy Arm). 

 

Have you done any reading down the board? 

I have been reading down the board (lots to read through) and am considering itinerary as well. I have seen some mention they found HA to be for an "older" age group while others weighed in on RCCL and NCCL not being too different from each other. 

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26 minutes ago, Coral said:

 

Alaska is entirely different than the Caribbean, IMO - Better! Beside looking at reports, I would also check out the book Alaska by Cruiseship by Anne Vipond. Alaska is more about what happens outside of the ship and not what goes on on the ship.

 

I personally like Princess one ways due to their times in port and 2 glacier days. RCCL was my least favorite as they had no enrichment programs on board (Princes has a ton). 

Thank you, I agree about it being about the outside and not the inside. I can find lots about what to see and do in Alaska but since we will be on the boat as well, what you mention about RCCL lacking enrichment programs on board is the kind of info I am looking for so I appreciate it.

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1 hour ago, dt3066 said:

Thank you, I agree about it being about the outside and not the inside. I can find lots about what to see and do in Alaska but since we will be on the boat as well, what you mention about RCCL lacking enrichment programs on board is the kind of info I am looking for so I appreciate it.

Others may disagree with me. Though some of those who really like RCCL in Alaska have not sailed other lines in Alaska. 

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58 minutes ago, Coral said:

Others may disagree with me. Though some of those who really like RCCL in Alaska have not sailed other lines in Alaska. 

I have to toss in my $0.02 worth here. Our 1st and recent cruise in Alaska was on Radiance. We (I) went to "see" Alaska and spent very little of my time touring the ship. In fact we did not even take in any late night shows. Unlike Caribbean cruises. Our loss, I'm sure. I spent the majority of my time trying to view scenery from the ship. When it got dark, which was late, we enjoyed sitting in the Centrum listening to some of the small entertainers and people watching. Then we slept. Our port times were long and we did an extensive (8 day) land tour prior to sailing. We ARE looking to possibly sail on Westerdam next time (smaller ship) and are even looking at the really small ships that sail Alaska like Alaska Dream Cruises or American Cruise Lines or Fantasy Cruises.

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We have done 4 lines in Alaska and think Princess does the best amongst the main stream lines due to their times in port on their one way cruises, 2 glacier days and their Alaskan speakers onboard. We have done RCCL, HAL, Princess and Celebrity.

 

I would love to do Un-Cruise one day. That would be the ultimate.

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We took Holland on a 15 day land sea cruise.  I absolutely loved the time in Dawson City and Whitehorse.  They flew us from Fairbanks to Dawson.  The port times were long as well as the stays on land.  Some of the port times on Princess get in at 6 am.  I am not a morning person.  Couldn’t see going on excursions at 6:30 am!  I think Holland’s regular rooms on board are a nice size with a couch and bathtub.

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If you're a foodie, I think HAL has the best cuisine. 
HAL is also big on education. RC, not so much. 
RC probably has more entertainment for younger kids (teens down to little ones.) and more adult night life.  HAL definitely caters to an older crowd. There are onboard nightclubs but the music and energy are geared toward 40+. 
I personally like the pampering on HAL, like the Greenhouse Spa (additional cost) and the Elemis products that are provided in all the staterooms. 

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Holland American is the oldest senior cruise line in Alaska

Princess also has a command performance level in this market

Carnival was there briefly but yielded to the above cruise lines which it is in partnership with.

NCL is making an appearance in a BIG way with the BIG ships the BLISS and JOY as well as

one medium size ship currently the JEWEL.

There are others but these are the three big players.

All three have land tour packages with Alaska Railroad - Princess and HAL have there own rail cars.

 

This is just scratching the surface - there is something for everyone's cruising adventure !

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I'm assuming that the 'NC' was just missing an 'L' - and while I do have to agree with Coral that Princess have the most onboard Alaska-specific enrichment programs, I enjoyed our NCL cruise the most of any we've taken to Alaska as it was a little longer with extra ports (9 days, Vancouver-Seattle 'not quite round trip but close enough given the price of a bus or train ticket') compared to the usual trio (everyone and their granny goes to Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway; for your first cruise it's all good but personally I find Sitka is by far the nicest port, still limited numbers of cruisers and most of them are on excursions so it's lovely to wander the town and actually see mostly locals instead of mostly tourists and temporary residents only there to sell things & drive buses).

 

Despite Princess having more cruises avilable than NCL, and a much more extensive on-shore and on-board program in AK, that bonus couple of days/ports (we also stopped at Icy Strait Point) elevated it above all of our 7 day cruises for me - rather than doing extra-long repos at start and end of season like NCL, Princess/HAL tend to do one-night cruises between Vancouver & Seattle which really misses an opportunity IMO, as timed right an 8 or even 9 day cruise could be just as feasible as a 7 day for many folks if run Saturday to Sunday or around long weekends, so no extra time off work needed.

 

So definitely the most important factor IMO is your choice of route rather than line - read up on ports, land trips pre/post-cruise, and decide if you're doing one-way or RT. If you decide on one-way that removes any need to figure out which port, as you're either starting or ending in Vancouver end of story. If RT, you can of course also start and end here (and you should, as we are far and away the best option obviously 😉); SF is delightful but unless you want an extra 4 sea days with zero view it's a logistically worse cruise; LA not as nice and even longer at sea; next-best in terms of volume of cruises thus choice/flexibility of lines & dates would be to settle for Seattle, which also has 7 day RT itineraries, generally cheaper cruises and airfare (and more nonstop flight options) - but it's less pretty, the cruises all go the boring way out to sea so no views until coming close to first port, even more overpriced hotels than here and no CAD discount!

 

Whether you choose Seattle or Vancouver, you still need to pick which line - but with a shortlist of available dates and ports you want to visit you may find that the possible cruises are restricted to just a handful already making it less difficult to choose. Given a choice I'd try for a smaller ship if possible, as with your criteria above the extra bells & whistles aboard the huge ships would be more than outweighed by the extra time (dis)embarking at every port (and would advise against Royal Princess completely, as you have all sorts of issues due to lack of maneuverability on top of the large pax numbers and while not as ridiculous as Bliss/Joy getting in and out of Vancouver Princess have been d*cking their pax around all season by pretending that they have 'tide' issues rather than admitting they have to sail around the outside because local pilots have refused to take it through the Narrows).

 

Long port days with early arrivals lead to early bedtime for most, so the relative lack of nighttime entertainment options wouldn't be as much of an issue on HAL as on a Caribbean cruise - personally I found their food to the blandest I've tasted before or since on any line though, which is why I'd really struggle to return myself. If food is important to you, I'd say that points you more toward NCL due to the multitude of dining options - though MDR food is a bit worse than Princess, the sheer variety (and better quality than in the MDR) of alternative venues and the much-better logistics of the whole ship being 'dine wherever, whenever, wearing whatever' are far superior to the half-assed Princess method of one dining room being Traditional Early/Late while another is Trad-Early and becomes Any Time later on.'

 

Especially in Alaska, where port times constantly clash with early and even late Trad seatings, most of the folks who miss their set meal time seem to try to weasel their way into AnyTime dining rooms instead of going to the buffet/Sabatinis etc. like they're meant to! But personally speaking I live to eat, so most folks won't be anywhere near as annoyed as I get on that front 😉

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We put little weight on the ship or line and concentrate on Itinerary and length of time in port. Another consideration for us is if the ship has a naturalist.  Both Princess and Holland have them. They have an incredible amount of information, particularly on wildlife.  On our recent trips the naturalist had a map with daily updates on what to expect as we transited specific areas of the inside passage with the approximate times of potential wildlife sightings and places of interest.

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Having completed 2 seasons working as navigator R/T from Vancouver and latterly numerous B2B, I have seen most of BC & Alaska multiple times. Most cruises were Princess.

 

Based on my experience, the primary consideration in Alaska is the scenery and time in port, the ship is purely a means of transport between ports. Personally, we couldn't care what entertainment is provided, as if cruising early summer we wouldn't want to miss the scenery, as it is light until 23:00 and further north almost midnight. For this reason, the ship is secondary to the scenery.

 

Our first choice is R/T or one way. The R/T only see the busy SE Alaska ports, while one-way generally head up to Whittier/Seward in Prince William Sound. Personally, SE Alaska is OK, but seeing Prince William Sound provides a better perspective of coastal Alaska.

 

Departure Port - Normal options are Vancouver, Seattle & San Francisco. The latter 2 must be R/T and generally use the Pacific Ocean West of Vancouver Island to transit BC. Therefore not very scenic. Vancouver ships use various portions of the Inside Passage. Unfortunately most mega ships go up Hecate Strait, but some of the smaller ships still use the entire Inside Passage, which is spectacular. S'bd ports are Whittier (Princess) & Seward (others)

 

Time in Port - In addition to the ports visited, look at the time in port. Seattle is an extra 100 miles than Vancouver and they must also make a technical stop in Victoria. Therefore, unless the speed is higher, they get less time in port.

 

Length of cruise - agree with Martincath in that we prefer longer cruises. If using Princess we would  do 14-day B2B, but it visits almost the same ports N'bd & S'bd. Our preference would be 10-12 days one-way, visiting the smaller less crowded ports.

 

Glaciers - Our preference is to visit Glacier Bay + 1 other glacier. Although I've been to Glacier Bay well over 20 times, including fishing small bergy bits out the water from the rescue boat every week, I am still out before arrival. These days you may only see 2 glaciers over a full day, but me us, the Park Rangers make the day. I have never missed getting into Glacier Bay regardless of weather or ice conditions. Some days, due to ice, we didn't get so close, but never failed to get great views. In Tracy Arm, I have only mage it to the glacier once. This is very scenic, if you get into the fjord, but many days we only cruised by the entrance. Hubbard glacier is spectacular, it is huge. Have made it in most times, with only 1 attempt cancelled due to ice. 

 

Actually selecting the cruise line is more challenging. Personally, our first choice is Viking Ocean, which do a 10-day N'bd or S'bd and cruise the entire BC inside Passage and some smaller ports. We would possibly consider HAL's 14-night R/T from Seattle, but last time I checked it didn't visit Glacier Bay, but does get some new ports, even for me.

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  • 2 weeks later...

We are in the same boat as the original poster.  The must have is Glacier Bay on the itinerary.  My wife wants to do a RT the first time we go and everyone says to leave out of Vancouver.   With those requirements, we are basically limited to Holland America's Volendam or Koningsdam.  I guess that makes the decision easier.  There is also a Cunard option, but I imagine that is a stuffier line than Holland America.   We are the type of people who skip formal nights, so I don't know how we will fit in.   

 

We really do like RCI, but on the dates we can go, the only RCI option is Ovation on the 28th of Aug.  That would require our 10 year old to miss a couple days of school, is probably too large for an Alaskan trip, leaves out of Seattle rather than Vancouver, etc etc etc.  

 

My son would be happy with a heated pool and some on Demand movies in the room.  I heard they are free on Holland, but I don't know if there are children's or teens shows/movies or what.   

 

 

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2 hours ago, zepp914 said:

We really do like RCI, but on the dates we can go, the only RCI option is Ovation on the 28th of Aug.  That would require our 10 year old to miss a couple days of school, is probably too large for an Alaskan trip, leaves out of Seattle rather than Vancouver, etc etc etc....

 

Please don't try and talk yourself out of this option. We just returned from Ovation to Alaska out of Seattle, and it was wonderful. We drove to Seattle, parked for the week at https://www.seattlecruiseparking.com/ (free shuttle to and from ship), loved the ship - loads to do. Your son will be in heaven on this ship. Since there are several sea days, you definitely want to have things to do, and Ovation does not disappoint - Flow Rider, bumper cars, roller skating, i-Fly, North Star, and tons of kids' activities are all included in the price of the cruise. The entire check-in procedure was a dream, and the staff, crew, food, and service were all amazing.

 

We have been to Alaska three times now, and would definitely prefer to embark and disembark in Seattle. The Vancouver embarkation process can be a nightmare - yes, I speak from experience. 

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We were just on Harmony.  My son didn't bother with the skating or flow rider there.  The bumper cars might be neat.  He did like the pools and the water slides.  We all enjoyed the Bionic Bar.

 

Was the ship able to get close enough to the glaciers?  Also did you find that the ports were overcrowded?  What about the pool?

 

I didn't know that the Vancouver embarkation was horrible.  I will have to look into that.  I just don't know if I want to trade Ketchikan for Victoria.  

Edited by zepp914
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^ Understood. We could not get into Endicott Arm or Dawes Glacier - completely socked in with fog. Captain waited for several hours but then decided to turn around, which we understood but was still disappointing. There is never any guarantee about any of the ports or itineraries in Alaska... you probably know this from your research.

The ports are crowded, no question. It depends on the date, the number of ships in that day, and their times. You can use this website to look up your prospective ships and dates: http://www.cruisecal.com/portal/ItineraryLookup/tabid/2918/Default.aspx

Pools were not crowded, hot tubs were always busy.

Victoria is phenomenal - as well, please don't count it out too soon. 😉

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Just to put things in perspective Zepp - Karen is totally right that Vancouver *can* be a nightmare to embark, but there are various factors that tend to combine to make it that way... so if you remove all or even just some of those factors it's only minutes worse than Seattle (due to the extra step of US immigration Preclearance it will always have one more required Thing To Do before you can board).

 

Those factors are firstly how many ships in port that day, how early in the season, how large are the ships, and what time you choose to board at (all of these you have control over); secondly whether US CBP are being annoying or not (outwith your control, but basically they sometimes understaff the pier - and with CBP reallocated to the southern border at this time, and the reputational impact of poor staffing at the pier falling on Vancouver despite how unfair that is, calls to congress people to complain about CBP are much less likely if they pull staff away here than, say, from International arrivals at a major US airport).

 

Basically avoid 3 or 4 ship days in May and the majority of the stars align for you. Unless you are doing a unique route that only runs in May, you can easily avoid the issue of new minions at the pier each season, plus even the experienced staff have to relearn procedures and adapt to potential changes in them. Avoid a 3 or 4 ship day and you will find that the maximum number of people rolling in even at peak boarding times is vastly reduced. Avoid peak boarding hours and no matter how busy a given day gets you will never wait as long as the poor schmucks who show up noonish to 1ish.

 

There have also been significant improvements at Canada Place over the last 4 years or so to improve flow - getting it ready to handle four ship days after Ballantyne pier closed means that if you arrive even on a three ship day it's a noticeably faster experience than it was five years ago, and on 1/2 shippers it's positively sprightly. The immigration kiosks also help a LOT with the biggest out-of-your-control factor - these are the same as the ones at airports all over US & Canada, so anyone who's a citizen of either country now has a long row of kiosks to interact with instead of just the much-more-limited number of manned CBP desks (and regardless of how few CBP agents show up on a given day, the kiosks are always all there!)

 

Since we prefer Alaska in May, we tend to be at risk of serious delays embarking - after the first 3 ship day we foolishly tried to board in time for our 'free' MDR lunch (which means getting there by 1:30pm on Princess) and ended up spending ~3hours from curb to cabin we reassessed our options! As soon as we started embarking as late as possible instead we've been 30mins or less every time - even on 3 ship days. Most recently, as Azamara did give us free booze, my wife insisted on abandoning our S.O.P. and instead going for the 'as early as possible' arrival this year so we showed up at 10am - as I expected we had to sit around waiting until 11am before we were allowed to start flowing through the various stages, but then it was 20mins until we were onboard the ship once we did start moving. Beat the crowds by showing up by 10:30am and you should generally find the same, with nobody getting to move until CBSA finish clearing everyone off the incoming ships but then a fast, smooth process after that for something in the 60-90 minutes total time.

 

Plus of course at the end of the day, even if Vancouver did take you an extra hour to board at compared to Seattle, it's time well-spent if you've ever lived through the utter gong show that is immigration in San Francisco, Astoria, even LA at times on a cruise ship - and I can't even imagine how bad it would be trying to get CBP to staff up Ketchikan, Skagway etc. to efficiently process folks on arrival!!! Not having to waste time with a 4-6 hour technical stop in Victoria from (all too frequently) 6-8pm to midnight generally means having longer in other ports for Vancouver RTs vs Seattle.

 

For us local types familiarity might breed contempt, so Seattle can appear more desirable simply because we see it less often - but for a visitor we're also much better to spend Pre or Post cruise time in 😉 And if you are interested in Victoria, do it right - even long port days are a weaksauce way to see the Island, with not even enough time to really do the city itself justice! Instead tag on a Pre or Post-cruise trip by flying in or out of YYJ - or taking the Clipper to or from Seattle if you have better flight options out of SEA - and spending at least a night or two. It's a nice place, but not when you might have less than 4 hours time in port and most stuff except touristy shops is shut!!!

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Thanks Langley Cruisers and Martincath for the info.

 

I will let my better half decide on which cruise to do.  That way it is her fault if it goes awry  :classic_wink:  .I completely ruled out the Ovation, but we are creatures of habit and she may really want to go for a RCI ship.  The date we are looking at lists Glacier Bay and I have read that rarely do ships miss that.  So I will let her pick between Koningsdam (any June, July, or Aug sailing) and Ovation (only 1 choice) and see what she prefers.  

 

As for Seattle vs Vancouver, we have never been to either.  We will show up a day early and leave a day after so that we can get 2 days in whatever city we end up in.  It will all be new to us.  

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43 minutes ago, martincath said:

... Not having to waste time with a 4-6 hour technical stop in Victoria from (all too frequently) 6-8pm to midnight generally means having longer in other ports for Vancouver RTs vs Seattle.

 

...And if you are interested in Victoria, do it right - ... and spending at least a night or two. It's a nice place, but not when you might have less than 4 hours time in port and most stuff except touristy shops is shut!!!

 

Hi buddy. 😊 I was surprised and delighted to see that Ovation has been porting in Victoria for most of the day, either noon - 10 pm, or 8 am - 6 pm. I said to hubby that I was glad folks would get to spend some quality time at the Gardens. We did our usual yummy lunch at Red Fish Blue Fish, Rogers Chocolates for Victoria Creams, and walked the breakwater, which now has guard rails, thank you very much! It was completely wide open when I was but a youth.  🤣 Good thing I or none of my friends ever fell off.

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On 8/24/2019 at 7:59 AM, masterdrago said:

I have to toss in my $0.02 worth here. Our 1st and recent cruise in Alaska was on Radiance. We (I) went to "see" Alaska and spent very little of my time touring the ship. In fact we did not even take in any late night shows. Unlike Caribbean cruises. Our loss, I'm sure. I spent the majority of my time trying to view scenery from the ship. When it got dark, which was late, we enjoyed sitting in the Centrum listening to some of the small entertainers and people watching. Then we slept. Our port times were long and we did an extensive (8 day) land tour prior to sailing. We ARE looking to possibly sail on Westerdam next time (smaller ship) and are even looking at the really small ships that sail Alaska like Alaska Dream Cruises or American Cruise Lines or Fantasy Cruises.

 

We did a cruise on the Alaska Dream - https://www.alaskandreamcruises.com/fleet/alaskan-dream/ - although not w the current owners.  It was a great trip.

 

DON

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